(Nicole Pitti/Purdue Research Foundation image)

The Bob L. and Joyce Beery Miles Outdoor Learning Space at Purdue University’s Lyles-Porter Hall was designed for researchers in the Purdue Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences to investigate and treat communication challenges in children.

WEST LAFAYETTE — Barrie Harvey, mother to 4-year-old Asher, calls a new playground on the Purdue University campus designed for children with communication challenges an “imagination heaven.”

The Bob L. and Joyce Beery Miles Outdoor Learning Space located outside of Lyles-Porter Hall was designed for researchers in Purdue’s Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. The space encourages children of all ages to communicate through play. The space is meant to encourage children of all ages to communicate through play.

“When you have a child who is struggling with speech, and when you’re thinking about what it will be like for them to go into kindergarten and need to advocate for themselves in a new environment, it is really nerve-racking,” said Harvey, whose child participates in the Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences Preschool Language Program. “I believe the playground is where many children learn how to play, communicate and interact with each other. I would say that 75% of the stories my child has told me are stories from that playground.”

Anne Gritt, a clinical assistant professor of speech, language and hearing sciences, said that is the intent of the learning space.

“Our department has several pediatric programs that use the playground,” Gritt said. “Our graduate clinicians work on coaching social interactions and providing support to the children who need it. At the same time, the children are building their skills with peer interaction. It’s a supportive environment with an adult presence to give help where they need it.”

The outdoor space also provides ways to investigate and treat children’s communication skills in ways not possible within traditional therapy rooms and classrooms.

Harvey said her son has made a lot of progress over the past year in the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences Program at Lyles-Porter Hall.

“My heart is so full because of this program. Asher finished last year, and all of his tests not only show him being in the typical range for speech, but exceeding that. He surpassed any and all goals we could have possibly had for him. This program gave us an amazing gift,” she said.

The preschool language program meets four mornings a week and consists of a group of 15 children, which includes children with developmental language disorders and a few typically developing peers who help model social and communication skills that the others can learn.

Each component of the playground was created with communication in mind. One piece of the playground that separates this space from traditional playgrounds is a communication board.

“For a child who doesn’t use oral language, it is an opportunity to point to a picture to make a choice. The cards can be removed so you can present two options. It is a nice resource to have for those children who need it,” Gritt said.

Several areas allow for dramatic play on the playground. The window wall and the dome both have numerous holes, screens and windows that allow a child to peer through and use their imagination. The window wall has been used for children pretending to go to a drive-thru restaurant, one of their favorite games. The dome, or as it is lovingly referred to by Asher, “the moon-cheese,” is often used as a bear cave.

Other communication-enhancing playground equipment includes:

An ocean-themed climbing structure that includes a steering wheel, which children frequently use to play pirates and other play themes.

Oodle swing, designed to fit up to four children at once. Children must work together to rock the swing back and forth.

“We-saw,” a unique take on the classic seesaw, allowing children to collaborate on rocking the center platform.

Roller slide , which has individual rollers that offer a tactile component that traditional slides do not have.

Harvey said her son has made a lot of progress over the past year in the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences Preschool Program.

This outdoor learning center was made possible through a generous donation from Bob L. and Joyce Beery Miles, alumni of Purdue. Bob Miles graduated in 1963 with a civil engineering degree, and Joyce Miles graduated in 1965 with a degree in family and consumer science.